With the Golden Globes coming up on Sunday—and a slew of other movie honors leading up to the Oscars on February 27—that frenetic time of year known as award season is fully under way in Los Angeles. And with so many dinnertime ceremonies and related parties swirling around the calendar, what will be on those menus? Nominees like Natalie Portman, Colin Firth, and Christian Bale should expect dishes on opposite sides of the calorie-count spectrum: Chefs say it’s all about either rich comfort foods, or lean, California-inspired dishes.
Wolfgang Puck, who creates menus for events related to the Grammys and the Oscars—and whose work is perhaps most immediately associated with award season catering—is focusing on comfort foods. In an exclusive sneak peek, Puck revealed that his menu for the Grammy Celebration on February 13, the Recording Academy’s official after-party, will include Kobe meat loaf and truffled mac and cheese bites.
Puck's team has been been doing desserts like house-made versions of Ring Dings and Twinkies, plus red velvet cupcakes, mini tiramisu, and s’more parfaits. Puck’s menu at the Conga Room after-party for the People’s Choice Awards included comfort dinner stations that served up the likes of popcorn shrimp with spicy mayonnaise, honey-strung fried chicken, short rib sliders, baked mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes and gravy.
“It’s about more comfort foods, more cozy, comfort-y with a little bit of a thematic twist,” concurs Along Came Mary founder Mary Micucci, whose company produces the Grammy Celebration with the Recording Academy. She specifically cites a particular interest in “really good Mexican food,” targeting Border Grill’s Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken in part for their roles in inspiring that trend.
But Joachim Splichal of Patina, who annually creates the Emmy Governors Ball menu, says he’s been seeing something else entirely, and points to the economic rebound as the reason for the change. “The economy is a little bit better, and people want to splurge a little bit more. They’re looking for organic, sustainable—they want to be politically correct from that standpoint. In 2007, ’08, and ‘09 we got a lot of requests [for comfort foods]. They were in in the recession because it was less expensive, more approachable. We did some things with meat loaves and stews. But I don’t see that this year, not for 2011. We go with buffets where there [are] a lot of farmer's market items.”
Suzanne Goin of Lucques is doing the menu for Screen Actors Guild Awards at the end of the month—which, like the Globes, is a televised dinner that requires creating dishes that are pleasing to the cameras, as well as flavorful—and she echoes the sentiment.
“What we are seeing are clients becoming more adventurous again,” she says. “Perhaps because of the economy, it felt like the past year was all about comfort food. People seemed a bit more conservative, wanting to stick to what they knew rather than venturing to the unknown. Now I think we all feel the economic recovery gaining some traction and people want to have fun again; they're getting more daring.”
Suki Sugiura, executive chef at the Beverly Hilton—who is creating the meal for the Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday—agrees, placing the emphasis on lighter fare and high-quality, local ingredients. For the award dinner, he’s preparing an appetizer of grilled eggplant with edamame and red pepper hummus with marinated artichoke and arugula, and an entrée of grilled beef tenderloin with caramelized fennel marmalada and sautéed mild chili sesame-crusted filet of Pacific sea bass.
“Lots of people ask for very light and fresh, also vegetarian,“ he says. “California is a treasure to me as a chef because we can get a tremendous amount of things close by. This year we looked from the Central Valley to San Diego for the best ingredients.”
Whether it’s about high-cal or low, chefs point out it’s a thrilling time of year. “There's a real joy to award season that just has a real festivity and sense of fun to it. Everything and everyone is dressed up,” says Goin. Sugiura adds, “It’s a show-off time.”
As for Puck, he’s more pragmatic. “I believe award season is not much different than any other big party, movie premiere, or theater opening that we do,” he says. “The only difference is, the whole world is interested.”